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Gaza's schools teach how-to guide to protect scared children

Gaza's schools provide a how-to guide to protect scared children
6 min read
28 November, 2023
Gaza's education system has come to a standstill. In previous Israeli aggressions, teachers were able to comfort their class with psychological support and guidelines. However, this time, constant communication blackouts are causing untold trauma.

I have been trying for days to communicate with my family and colleagues in Gaza but to no avail.

This time is completely different from anything we have experienced in the past years. In previous wars, there was an opportunity for us as teachers and guides to contribute to helping the community face the challenges of war.

This time, only a few of us can provide assistance. My colleagues who volunteer in schools, which have turned into shelters, risk their lives every day while performing their humanitarian duty, leaving their families without contacting them to ensure their safety.

During the Israeli occupation's aggression on Gaza in May 2021, we managed to stay in touch with our students and check on them as if they were members of our extended family. We didn’t want to abandon our students when the world was abandoning them.

Despite the significant challenges and difficult conditions, we organised activities at the school that day to ensure the safety of our students, their families, and their loved ones, and to provide assistance if the opportunity arose.

The electricity, communication networks, and the internet were unstable, but we succeeded in activating electronic communication channels and sharing instructions and awareness bulletins with the students and their families.

These guidelines included how to deal with the psychological trauma and anxiety resulting from the wars. This is what my colleagues at the school did at the beginning of this aggression before the electricity and communication networks were cut off.

How to deal with my children during the aggression:

  1. Adults are role models, so maintain your composure and emotions.
  2. Sit away from windows and open areas.
  3. Don’t listen to the news loudly in the presence of children.
  4. Engage children in play or colouring activities.
  5. Answer children's questions calmly and positively.
  6. Minimise the importance of shelling and aggression, but be sincere.
  7. Have an emergency plan for dealing with events and how children should behave.
  8. Engage in worship together with children.
  9. Talk to children about exciting and positive stories.
  10. Comfort scared children by embracing them and making them feel loved and safe.
  11. Stay safe and peaceful.

In conflict zones, if you see unexploded ordnance, remember this golden rule: Stop - Don't touch - Back away - Report

  1. Stop immediately in your place.
  2. Never touch or move the object, as it could explode.
  3. Back away, retracing your steps. The area may be dangerous and contain mines or unexploded remnants of war that could harm or kill you if stepped on.
  4. Report to the police or relevant authorities in your area. Warn others in the vicinity of the danger, and don't forget to alert your family and friends.
  5. Stay safe.

In that instance, we also worked on implementing simple activities with the aim of contributing to occupying the children's time and helping them reduce their stress levels.

For example, the school counsellor carried out an activity called "Let me know you're okay" to check on the student's safety. We encouraged them to participate by sending text messages, voice recordings, or drawings with the goal of ensuring their well-being.

Let me know if you're okay

  1. Draw any picture that represents your feelings or thoughts and send it to the group.
  2. Write casual words without any pressure, even if it's just introducing yourself, and send it to the group.
  3. Sing a song or recite a poem in a video and send it to the group.
  4. Engage in a hobby you love with your siblings and send it to the group.
  5. Let me know if you're okay by choosing any activity you enjoy.
I’m okay because I trust Allah's words: “For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease”.

After hardship comes relief, and after war comes victory, and my country's flag will proudly wave high in the sky - Samah, Grade 9
I feel okay as long as my faith in Allah is strong, Palestine [heart emoji] - Nada, Grade 5
O occupier, leave. Jerusalem will remain free. Despite the sweetness and despite the bitterness. Leave ... Leave, the land of Jerusalem will not be sold. My country is the most beautiful flower, for it, a revolution will rise. Your flag will not be trampled upon, you are the soul, you are the sensation. - Baraaʾ, Grade 5.

In the student parliament, we provided space for students to discuss what we could do to help each other. Here are some of the students' contributions that we found in the communication groups archive, which we implemented during the previous aggression.

"It's good that the teachers engage students in activities and distract us from thinking about the war. They help us reduce fear and psychological pressure." – Lama, Grade 7/4.

"Let us draw and colour. Don't give us homework, give us online games to play." – Naya Grade 5/5.

"Ms., many times the situation is tough for us. There is frequent power outage, weak internet connection, and poor mental state. Provide entertaining activities outside of studying because we are stressed and worn out. May Allah protect everyone." – Baraa’a Grade 5/1.

"Ms., I drew this picture. Isn't it beautiful?" – Laila Grade 6/4.

"Give us activities to do with our families, like drawing, colouring, watching entertaining programs, and trying new things we haven't done before, like writing stories. The most important thing is that we don't fear because Allah is with us, and everything goes according to His will. We stay away from the news and don't follow it. My apologies for the delay in communication due to internet outages." – Hoda Grade 9/1

"In my opinion, there is no problem with transitioning to online teaching because we don't know what could happen around us. If we don't continue reviewing the curriculum, we will forget it, especially if the final exams are imminent. Our teachers also said that if we agree to implement educational activities, they won't ask us for much due to the situation." – Malak Grade 6/2.

"Hello, my teacher Manar. We can't sleep at night because we remain tense and wait until morning to sleep, even though we hear rockets' noises frequently. We have been through many wars, but we couldn't get used to this sound. Every time we startle and wake up from sleep due to the sound of shelling, and we remain startled by any knocking on the door, passing a car, or when someone forcefully closes a window. Our hearts tremble, and the sound of the drone gives us headaches. May Allah protect and bless you all." – Ayat Grade 8/2.

Live Story

In the past weeks, while I desperately try to gather information about the safety of my family, I reflect deeply on what we have done during that time and how important it was for us to be a part of our students and their families' lives.

Their messages to us have been a source of inspiration and immense strength, helping me reduce the feeling of helplessness and allowing me and my colleagues the opportunity to contribute to strengthening our community.

I write these lines, eagerly awaiting a notification on my phone screen informing me that my family and loved ones are safe, and I vividly remember what my mother said in our last stolen phone call: "Mum, I feel like we're sacrificial lambs waiting for our turn to be slaughtered."

Manar Al-Zariy is a Palestinian teacher and freelance journalist who works as an English Language teacher in the Education Program at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. Manar holds a Master's degree in International Relations from New York University. She has worked in several educational institutions, including AMIDEAST and the Al Fakhoora Program